Back in June 2001, when Jay Z made Prodigy of Mobb Deep the first-ever contestant on that Hot 97 Summer Jam screen in Giants Stadium, he had no idea he was fathering what would become an entirely new means of mockery in hip hop battling.
Hov had birthed meme rap. This wasn’t Tupac parodying imitation Biggie Smalls and Lil Kim in his “Hit ’Em Up” video—a supplementary visual to an already-vicious diss record. Nah. Jay publicized an image—Prodigy as a child dressed in dance clothes—that was credibility-damaging in and of itself. And while the Internet wasn’t quite developed enough to support anything truly going viral—Napster was just two years old, albeit one month away from its initial court-ordered shutdown—the image circulated in the following weeks and months via rap magazines, word of mouth and other forms old school media (disposable cameras?).
That unforgettable seed that Shawn Carter planted before that New Jersey crowd fully sprouted last night (Aug. 3), during the sixth year of OVO Fest in Toronto. Thanks to Drake, Meme Rap has been self-actualized, word to Maslow.
The night’s master of ceremonies opened up his set by taking the stage to his recent Meek Mill disses “Charged Up” and “Back to Back (Freestyle).” As he performed the latter, Meek Mill-clowning memes that have been cluttering your Instagram feeds for the past two weeks appeared slideshow style on a giant screen in the background.
But unlike Jay Z, Drake didn’t go unearthing some humiliating fossil from Meek Mill’s past. You—yes, you!—provided the ammunition.
Heavy on bars or not, Meek Mill and Drake’s feud is historic, but not necessarily because of anything either of the MCs have done (although Meek’s level of self-inflicted ethering is certainly unprecedented). It’s the level of engagement—of participation—from fans that previously hasn’t been seen.
Spectators are still watching, jeering and cheering from the sidelines, but now they’re also hurling stones of their own at the gladiators from their own seats by circulating hilarious and ridiculing multimedia. Sure, Meek has been getting mollywhopped in this battle, but the feud feels even more lopsided because of the user-spread memes that are likely making his soul burn slow, or at least sting a little.
Last night, Drake merely took that existing ether and put it on full display. It was a public pelting of Robert Rahmeek Williams that began the day after he called out Drake for using ghostwriters (see: #MeekBeLike) and continued online even after Drizzy’s OVO Powerpoint presentation was done.
Drake is far from the first to use off-wax media to pulverize an opponent. 50 Cent—who seemingly gave Drake’s merciless offensive a thumbs up last night with an Instagram caption, “This guy been watching me close”—is still paying for his Jheri-curled character Pimpin’ Curly’s antics more than five years ago. Along with hosting a sex tape of the mother of Rick Ross’ child, Lestonia Leviston, to whom he now owes $7 millions following a recent civil court verdict, he also used an old photo of former friend The Game as a stripper for one of his mixtape covers and filmed himself shedding fake tears to emphasize the danger of listening to Fat Joe’s music. Others, like Azealia Banks and Snoop Dogg, have also harnessed the power of social media in rap beefs.
Still, OVO Fest 6 marked a new pinnacle in meme rap. Perhaps the last laugh won’t belong to Drake or Meek Mill, but rather, you.
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(Photo: George Pimentel/Getty Images)
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